What is: The Riverside Hotel, Clarksdale, MS
What was: Previously the G.T. Thomas Afro-American Hospital where Bessie Smith died in 1937, it was transformed into a hotel by Mrs. Z. L. Ratliff in 1944. The Riverside Hotel opened for business in 1944. Mrs. Hill purchased the building in 1957 and it has remained in the hands of the Ratliff family to this day.
As one of the only African American hotels in Jim Crow Mississippi, it was listed in the Greenbook and played host to a Who’s Who of blues and R&B legends including Duke Ellington, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Sam Cooke whose legendary song, “A Change is Gonna Come” is believed to reference the nearby Sunflower River.” Others, including Ike Turner, Sonny Boy Williamson II, and Robert Nighthawk, liked the place so much they moved in.
Ike Turner was living here in 1951 when he and fellow Clarksdalian Jackie Brenston wrote, rehearsed here (and then recorded at Sun Studio’s) what many consider the first rock ‘n roll song, “Rocket 88.”
It was a safe space for traveling musicians and became a community hub and the most blues-historic hotel in the world.
The Riverside Hotel is the only blues hotel that is still Black-owned in Clarksdale. But the building, which has not been operational since storm damage in April 2020, needs significant rehabilitation. The family is determined to continue to honor the legacy of their family and restore and reopen its doors. In 2021 it was recognized as one of the 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in America.
The Ratliff family is looking for donors and partnerships to ensure that this invaluable history is here for generations to come! Please donate to support its’ preservation. Source: http://www.riversideclarksdale.com/